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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

Court of Appeals upholds separate-sex bathrooms for St. Johns County school district

On Friday, the Court decided in a 7-4 vote to uphold Allen D. Nease High School's policy of dividing bathrooms by biological sex, according to Reuters. Drew Adams, a former student of the school who identified as a transgender man, sued the school district in 2017, alleging that his being required to use girls' or gender-neutral bathrooms violated the Constitution. The Court's decision increases the likelihood that the case will be moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This case involves the unremarkable—and nearly universal—practice of separating school bathrooms based on biological sex," Judge Lagoa wrote. "This appeal requires us to determine whether separating the use of male and female bathrooms in the public schools based on a student’s biological sex violates (1) the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, and (2) Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. We hold that it does not—separating school bathrooms based on biological sex passes constitutional muster and comports with Title IX."

Lagoa wrote that the appeal is centered around whether discrimination based on biological sex necessarily entails discrimination based on transgender status.

"It does not—a policy can lawfully classify on the basis of biological sex without unlawfully discriminating on the basis of transgender status...the contention that the School Board’s bathroom policy relied on impermissible stereotypes associated with Adams’s transgender status is wrong. The bathroom policy does not depend in any way on how students act or identify. The bathroom policy separates bathrooms based on biological sex, which is not a stereotype...At most, Adams’s challenge amounts to a claim that the bathroom policy has a disparate impact on the transgender students in the School District. And a disparate impact alone does not violate the Constitution," Lagoa wrote.

Lagoa also noted that, of the 40,000 students that the St. Johns County School Board oversees, 16 identify as transgender.

"This is an aberrant ruling that contradicts the rulings of every other circuit to consider the question across the country," said Tara Borelli, a lawyer with Lambda Legal representing Adams. "We will be reviewing and evaluating this dangerous decision over the weekend."

According to its official website, Lambda Legal is an organization working to achieve "full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and people with HIV." Borelli, a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law, has represented same-sex couples seeking health care benefits, as well as state and federal employees seeking transition-related health care coverage.

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